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Gary Rubinstein's Blog: Success Academy Extends Its 75% Attrition Streak

Success Academy began in 2006 with 83 kindergarteners and 73 1st graders. The first graduating class in 2018 had 16 students which was a persistence rate of 16/73=22%. The second graduating class in 2019 had 26 students which seems like an improvement since 26/83=31% but since that included students from the first cohort who had been left back, the first class was really a little better than 22% and the second class a little worse than 31%. Also those 26 students from the class of 2019 were 20 girls and just 6 boys.

Success Academy expanded in 2008 so they had around 353 students who, if they stayed in Success Academy, would graduate in the third graduating class of 2020. Instead just 98 students graduated which is around a 28% persistence rate. This group was about 60% girls.

With the pandemic I didn’t work the numbers for the fourth graduating class last year, but based on a recent blog post on the Success Academy website, I have preliminary data for the fifth graduating class of 2022.

According to the post, there are currently 137 students in 12th grade at Success Academy. Though there are still 6 months left in the school year and they usually lose 10 to 15 percent (I believe because some of them have to repeat 12th grade, but I’m not positive), but for now let’s just say that all 137 will graduate. Is this a better persistence rate than previous years?

Back in 2010 Success Academy had expanded even more so they had five schools with kindergarteners back then: Harlem 1, Harlem 2, Harlem 3, Harlem 4, and Bronx 1. Those schools had 145, 147, 76, 83, and 88 kindergarteners respectively for a total of 538 students.

In the past 12 years there was a net loss, then of 401 students. This includes adding students to replace some of the students who left for various reasons. (One common reason that students leave is that Success Academy threatens to make them repeat a grade for arbitrary reasons but then strikes a deal with the families that if they voluntarily leave the school, Success Academy will pass them onto the next grade.) So 137/538=25%, if you are tracking the persistence rate.

Success Academy has argued that a 75% attrition rate isn’t so bad because it is about a 11% attrition per year, compounded, which, they say, is what happens in public schools too. But I don’t think this is a valid argument. Getting into Success Academy is supposed to be like winning the lottery. The attrition rate should be miniscule if Success Academy is as good as they claim. You don’t just give away a winning lottery ticket.

All the data I quote in this post is publicly available at the New York State education portal if you want to check my numbers.

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Gary Rubinstein

Gary Rubinstein is a high school math teacher. He is the recipient of the 2005 Math for America Master Teacher Fellowship. ...